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Read about online colleges for healthcare and the programs, degrees and training that may be available to students.

Online Health Degrees

Online degrees in health can help prepare students for a wide range of careers in the healthcare industry. These programs vary depending on the specific degree being pursued and the career path the student plans to enter. With an online healthcare degree, and the proper licensure, graduates may qualify to enter fields such as nursing, home health aid, dental assisting, healthcare administration or medical billing and coding.

Online Degrees in Health

Online healthcare schools typically provide students with the opportunity to complete their coursework remotely and on a schedule that fits their needs. As with campus-based studies, the curriculum content of an online program will depend on the degree being sought. In general, healthcare programs help students learn about the human body and medical science, preparing them for the specific tasks they'll approach in their future jobs. Due to the physical nature of health services, some degrees may only be available as hybrid programs, requiring students to complete hands-on training sessions in addition to their online coursework.

Healthcare programs remain popular because the healthcare industry is one of few that have continued to grow despite the economic recession. A 2012 Georgetown University study found that the healthcare industry should add 5.6 million new jobs by 2020, with nursing a particularly fast-growing profession. However, degree requirements for advancement in the healthcare field have also increased. While specific qualifications vary, many professions require that individuals pass state licensure or certification exams, particularly before practicing medicine.

Healthcare Degree Specializations

A number of different degrees and specializations fall under the umbrella category of healthcare. While physicians, surgeons and dentists all require doctoral level degrees that are generally not available online, students can train to become registered nurses, home health aides, physical therapists, medical assistants, occupational therapists, dental hygienists, massage therapists, or other healthcare professionals through online degree programs.

  • Associate Degree in Health - Generally completed in two years of full-time coursework, associate degrees are designed to quickly prepare students for an entry-level position in the healthcare field, such as cardiovascular technologist, dental hygienist, medical assisting, office billing and coding, and more. Coursework varies according to specific degree concentration. Some associate programs can be completed entirely online, while others may involve hands-on training sessions.
  • Bachelor's Degree in Health - Bachelor's degrees usually take four years of full-time study to complete. They're less often geared towards specific healthcare industry professions, but are considered the standard background required for careers like dietitian and nutritionist, occupational health and safety specialist, and recreational therapist. Bachelor's degrees in healthcare management or administration are available online as well.
  • Master's Degree in Health - A master's degree typically involves two years of additional study after a bachelor's degree is completed, and gives students more focused study in a particular field or profession. In the healthcare industry, a master's degree may help train students to become occupational therapists, physicians' assistants, and speech-language pathologists. As for online colleges for health, some master's degree in nursing programs or in healthcare management may be found available through online coursework.
  • Doctoral Degree in Health - A doctoral-level degree is required for many of the highest-paying careers in the healthcare industry. The time required to complete a doctorate program varies, but can be between three and six years beyond the completion of a bachelor's degree. At the doctoral level, online schools may offer degrees in healthcare administration or management, as well as a Doctor of Nursing Practice.

Related Careers in Healthcare

Depending on their particular degree, graduates of online healthcare programs may consider entering a number of different career paths. Often, one degree can serve as a stepping stone, allowing a graduate to transition into a more specialized field later in their career. Related occupations might include:

  • Medical and Health Services Managers - Healthcare administrators oversee medical and health services at a wide range of facilities. According to BLS, they may manage a single department within a larger facility, like a hospital, or supervise an entire clinic or practice themselves. These professionals generally need a bachelor's degree in a field such as healthcare administration or public health, although master's degrees are common as well.
  • Licensed Practical Nurse - Also called Licensed Vocational Nurses, LPNs work with doctors and registered nurses to provide basic care to patients in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, or private homes. To become an LPN, individuals must earn a nursing degree from an accredited program and pass the NCLEX state licensing exams.
  • Sonographer - These healthcare workers use imaging equipment to detect sound waves and form images of the inside of a patient's body, commonly known as ultrasounds or sonograms. Sonographers specialize in a particular part of the body, such as OB-GYN sonography or abdominal sonography. The job typically requires an associate degree, although one-year certificate programs can be an option for people who already have training in related healthcare fields.

Healthcare Industry Trends

Growth in the healthcare industry has remained strong despite the recession, thanks in part to an aging baby boomer population, longer life spans and people leading more active lives than in the past. Careers related to caring for the elderly, like nurses and home health aides may see job opportunities continue to increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012) projects especially large growth rates over the next decade for the following industries:

  • Medical and Health Services Managers - 22 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2020
  • Licensed Practical Nurses - 22 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2020
  • Sonographers - 44 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2020

Sources:
Dental Hygienists, Bureau of Labor Statistic Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
"Healthcare Industry Will Create 5.6 Million More Jobs By 2020: Study," The Huffington Post, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/21/health-care-job-creation_n_1613479.html
Healthcare, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2009, http://cew.georgetown.edu/healthcare/
Healthcare Occupations, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistic Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm
Medical and Health Services Managers, Bureau of Labor Statistic Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Management/Medical-and-health-services-managers.htm

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